Coleridge said that.* And he should know. By the time he died at the age of 61 in 1834, his (body) was a mess--bloated, addicted to opium. No more could he walk for hours--or climb mountains (which he'd gleefully done earlier.) I've now outlived Coleridge. And Keats and Shelley (both the poet and his wife, Mary). And Lord Byron. And Stephen Crane. And all sorts of other celebrities, literary and otherwise, including Billy the Kid.
But as I arise each morning now, I wonder: What will go wrong today?
So many of my systems are in, well, stress that I sometimes feel like the Enterprise (the starship), under fire, things flying around all over the place, crew hanging onto things, hoping the filmmakers will get them out of it alive. Most of them will survive the attack; you and I ain't gonna.
Among the most annoying side-effects of my combination of age and illness and medication is the stunning loss of energy, a loss that commenced a little over three years ago when I received my first injection of Lupron (to retard the growth of my determined prostate cancer cells, loose somewhere in my body, bent on taking up residence in my bones).
It was only days--maybe weeks, not too sure--before I began to notice the dramatic appeal of The Afternoon Nap. And the abrupt decline of the energy I used to have in abundance. I'm not sure I can do even half of what I used to three years ago. And when I overdo it (behaving as if Lupron were just a rumor), I pay a dear price.
This week I tried/did too much. There were two family birthdays and some other events that I wanted so much to do. And so I did them. And when I woke up this morning, my body said, Just who do you think you are?!?!? Then snickered sadistically as I struggled to my feet, determined to get something done today before I surrender to Mr. Nap later on.
I have to learn to say "No"--but it's so difficult for me. There are so many things I want to do ...
I think now of the things I did as a younger man--husband, father, teacher, play director, writer, etc.--doing all of it with the dumb aplomb of someone totally unaware of age and mortality.
In one of her sonnets, Edna St. Vincent Millay, never so dumb as I, says ...
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.
I'll disagree only this far: We may, as she says, know that "worse than that must follow," but we don't really know it, many/most of us. We don't really feel it applies to us--until it does (at whatever age). Not until we begin waking up and feeling the difficulty of the struggle, today, to do the things we love to do, to be (again) the person we yearn to be. And once were.
Today, so far, I'm "winning." I might even make it out to the health club this afternoon (maybe not--NAP, NAP, NAP?). And I am surpassingly grateful for what I can still do--and be. And I will, for the nonce, continue to try to silence the terror that's shouting in my face.
To help me, I'll think of poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and John Updike, both of whom wrote and edited on their hospital death beds. That, my friends, is the courage I seek. And that we all need.
*in his poem "Youth and Age" (link)